Getting an Au Pair: What really motivated you?

by cv harquail on May 10, 2010

Let’s cut through the b.s. of the lovely agency brochures, the glowing endorsements on agency blogs, and the romanticized picture of a delightful young person shepherding our kids across the park to the playground.

Why do we really have au pairs as child caregivers?

cathynichols s etsy.jpgWhy are we opening up our homes, and sometimes even our hearts, to these people we don’t know?

If you poll a group of au pairs on a bad day, they’ll tell you what they suspect:

Families get au pairs because au pairs are inexpensive childcare.

The other stuff, the cultural exchange stuff? That’s all a distraction to make people feel better about paying au pairs so little.

Well, they just might be right. About some families.

The Real Reason(s) for getting an Au Pair

Costs matter, but that’s not why my DH and I chose to get an au pair over other kinds of childcare.

Our #1 reason was flexibility. As a professor I had a demanding but flexible schedule, where my days had only temporary routines. We needed a different pattern of hours every 8 weeks. We had homes in two cities and we traveled back and forth between them. No other form of childcare was going to work with that kind of life. Plus, my best friend had an au pair and really liked the host family experience.

And how about you?

What motivated us/me to get an Au Pair? (check all that apply)

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Image by Cathy Nichols. Go to her shop on Etsy and see why I love her paintings.
It’s not just for the owls, ‘tho they are adorable, aren’t they?

{ 71 comments }

Taking a computer lunch May 10, 2010 at 7:20 am

Initially, we got an au pair because we had two special needs children and my husband had just re-entered the workforce at an entry-level job after taking 21 months off to care for The Camel. She was born with mental retardation and medical issues, some of which are now life-threatening, but she is stable when managed properly. Her brother, now typically developing, had bacterial meningitis as a newborn (The Camel’s gift to her brother was parents who are sensitive to changes in a child and we caught the disease before much damage was done). He had home-based therapy from 5-15 months to overcome the damage – today he is exceptionally bright, reads well, speaks two languages, and plays sports with gusto — and is extremely far-sighted, because his optic nerve was damaged. The bottom line, even if we had found caregiver willing to take two kids in home-based therapy, it would have cost us more than DH earned. Our first AP had been a pediatric intensive care nurse in her home country, and was non-plussed by two special needs children. A bonus to us, she only spoke Portuguese to our son, so that by the time she left 3 1/2 years later he was absolutely bilingual in two languages.

So why more APs? Because The Camel’s fragility means that we never know when we’re going to be taking several days or several weeks off from work to care for her in hospital (we don’t leave her alone – it’s tireless tag-teaming parenting all the way). We need every hour of leave we can get. APs are loving, attentive, playful, and get to know The Camel well enough to know when she’s having more than a bad day – when she’s in crisis. And our son is relieved not to be in after-school care, to have the afternoon at home reading, playing, and watching a little TV.

We had one year of Medicaid-paid nursing while we gutted our home to make a handicapped accessible bed & bath (and an au pair suite underneath) for The Camel. We went through 25 nurses, 5 of whom completely failed to show up for shift. When they didn’t show up or were late we relied on the goodness of neighbors – one pregnant, one 72. Only one of the nurses ever cuddled The Camel – it was clear that their job was to keep her alive – to feed her, give her medicine on time, and to make sure her temperature and blood pressure were appropriate. They could not pick her up from school and bring her to doctor’s appointments, so that year I watched my holiday and sick leave dwindle to nothing.

So now, when I have two kids in school full-time, do I have an AP? I really enjoy having young women in the house. They’re a lot of fun – as they spend their year free from the constraints of their home community and their families (much like Americans in college). My son is very tolerant of differences in people (okay living with The Camel has something to do with that, too). And our APs quickly learn that although The Camel is a lot of work, she is the easy child – rarely cries, approaches life with gusto, and asks no hard questions about the meaning of life. And, I still have the flexibility of having the au pair take The Camel to and from school for doctor’s appointments and just meeting them there. (And because DH and I are no long in entry-level positions, we can have a family holiday once in a while because we have enough leave.)

We can only have APs for another 4 years, becuase then my son will age-out of the program. Then, we’ll really have to rethink our caregiving strategy for The Camel.

anony May 11, 2010 at 3:10 am

the camel??

Taking a computer lunch May 11, 2010 at 6:53 am

The Camel is my special child who panics when she feels like she’s choking and is capable of launching her bites of food very great distances. She’s a great kid, with a wonderful sense of humor, loves music and swimming, but also weighs 25 kg. We’re extremely selective about who gets to take care of her.

StephinBoston May 10, 2010 at 8:54 am

We had a nanny that we loved, she got married and decided to have kids, she didn’t live close so I knew she would leave us when her baby was born, so I started thinking about other options, we debated for a while on whether or not we could have another adult living with us. I checked the cost of childcare in our area and for 2 kids (DS1 was 2 and DS2 was a newborn) it was significantly more expensive.
So we decided to give it a shot, I loved the idea of having a different culture since we already are a multi-cultural family (I’m French Canadian, DH is American).
Now the kids are getting older, DS1 will be in kinder and DS2 is in preschool, I’m still loving the experience and looking forward to the flexibility in hours since I won’t need my au pair working 8-5PM everyday anymore.

FormerSwissAupair May 10, 2010 at 10:38 am

I am not a HM, but when I do have children I will definitely have an AP. The reasons I would hire one over a nanny would be the flexiblity, it’s cheaper, and the cultural/language exchange. Having been an AP, I was so impressed of the high level of fluency in two or more languages of the children that I took care of. I would love to have a Spanish or German speaking AP since I speak both languages, but not as well as a native speaker would. Also, knowing that I could schedule my AP for weekends and evenings would be awesome! As a nanny, I know the high cost of employing a nanny. lol. And I really do not want to put my kids in daycare. Anyways, that’s just my expectations of having an AP. Of course, since I’ve never had one, I might be a bit naive. lol.

Anna May 10, 2010 at 11:05 am

I have entertained a thought of getting an au pair when I was expecting my second child. My first was at home with daddy for the first year of her life (lucky her! daddy was looking for a job in a bad economy), and in home-based daycare for the second. In home-based daycare, even though there were only 4 kids there, the owner ignored sick policies and my kid was always getting viciously sick. So much, that my husband and I were sick that year as never before. I have developed a chronic thyroid condition as a complication of one never-ending cold, and I the winter I was pregnant with my son, I woke up so sick one day my extremities were getting numb and it was a true emergency. In the end she spent a year and 3 months in that daycare, but illnesses got better.

So we have made a decision to take her out of that setting when the baby was born, and I have even applied for the au pair program. I chose the agency based on a recomendation passed by a friend, of her college professor, who used that agency for 11 years. But in the end, I was not confident that I, a mother, can successfully take care of a newborn and a 2- and a half year old, and I was afraid that a young girl can’t. We were searching for a nanny in parallel, and ended up hiring a wonderful nanny.

The nanny stayed with us for about 6 months, and then her mother got ill and she had to return to her home country to care for her. In the next less than 4 months, we went through at least 4 nannies (the numbers are getting fuzzy in my head because it was such grotesque bad luck) and a stint in a large chain daycare center for a couple of weeks. In the daycare center the kids got sick after just a few days and had to pay over $500 per week per kid (yes, that’s how much it was for kids under 2) for nothing… The nannies – each had a different problem. One was a chronic lier who at the end told me on Fri that she is not coming Monday, another (a grandmother of a 6-yr old girl herself) thought my 2.5 year-old was 5 and treated her as such – I discovered it after a month of her employment… Another was a mother to three (grown kids), and barely took care of one (the baby), neglecting my daughter. I wonder who raised her three kids for her. Basically none was capable of dealing with a baby and a toddler at the same time, and I renewed my application with the au pair agency out of desperation. I thought, if experienced moms and grandmas cannot do it, maybe my preconceptions that a nanny has to have been a mom herself are empty prejudices. It just cannot get any worse!

We lucked out and got a wonderful au pair that first year. Even though the second year was bad – with two rematches – my previous experiences showed me how wonderful an au pair can be, and gave me confidence that I can repeat that experience again. We did for our third year, and in a little less than two weeks we are starting our fourth year, with a new au pair’s arrival. I am expecing another baby about a month after she arrives, but this time I am confident that we can do it, together.

Anna May 10, 2010 at 11:06 am

I meant to say in the end of the first paragraph “illnesses NEVER got better”

Darthastewart May 10, 2010 at 11:27 am

We first started with au-pairs because my oldest was a preemie. She couldn’t be put in a daycare the first year because of the risk of RSV. (She was a 28 weeker). So, here I sit nearly 12 years later, and a bunch of au-pairs. Most have been good. Some have been excellent. I enjoy the flexibility, the cultural exchange, and just having them around.

Southern Host Mom May 10, 2010 at 11:31 am

Like the story above, we hosted our first Au Pair after way too many colds came home from day care. My son would get sick, then I would get sick, and then he would get sick and on and on . . . When my daughter was born, I just dreaded the cycle continuing. I was already working only part-time, but barely managed to get to the office on those 3 days a week I was working. I also found the turnover at the daycare center we were using so frustrating. Just when I got to know and became comfortable with the newest “teacher”, she would move on and someone new would start.

Another discovery I made from my part-time working years was that I spent too many hours at home doing the chores that needed to be done! I could hardly sit down and paint pictures with my kids before I’d remember the laundry that needed to be done, or the clean dishes that needed to be put away. I find it so reassuring (and amusing, of course!) that our Au Pairs aren’t similarly obsessed by laundry or clean dishes! :) They can play play-doh, color, draw, or work in workbooks to their heart’s content, and clean up once at the end of the day.

Now that my son is older (1st grade), our Au Pair helps him with his homework when he comes home from school each day. I’ve never managed to successfully assist with homework and prepare dinner at the same time!

Jan May 10, 2010 at 11:40 am

We decided on an au pair for several reasons but probably the most important is that an au pair is pretty much guaranteed for a year unless you have some serious problems. We had a live in nanny for 6 months, but she left us after she got some experience so we felt an au pair might offer more stability.

Another reason is that our family business is right next to our house. We weren’t really interested in day care because one of us would have to get the kids ready and then actually drive them to daycare on a round trip of about 20 minutes. Call us lazy, but the idea of someone being in our house to look after our kids just seemed a lot better and easier for us plus it’s nice to come home at lunch time to see the kids.

Dorsi May 10, 2010 at 12:02 pm

Every once and awhile (like in the recent comment on the “Au Pair? Start here” thread) — I see what it costs me to have an au pair for my single child and cringe. I could have excellent day care for a lower cost (I know this is regional, but true where I live).

However, I value the flexibility the AP brings us, as well as the control we have over her off-duty life. In theory I could have the same flexibility by hiring college students to care for my child hourly, but I couldn’t control them if they decide to cancel on me because of something that happens in their personal life.

AP child care costs us quite a bit. However, missing work costs me a tremendous amount. (More than 1k, somewhat unique to my field). If I had a kid in day care who had a fever, missing work to be with my child places a pretty big financial burden on us. Only a few missed work days per year would cost us more than the difference between day care and au pair care.

I also love the seamless nature to the care — There is no morning shuffle of trying to get everyone dressed and out the door on time. There is no drama when we go out in the evening. We travel with the au pair, which makes our trips so much easier.

Darthastewart May 10, 2010 at 1:47 pm

I find that even missing work in a very flexible, family friendly environment is dicey. Do it too much, and you get labeled. So, I think that having an au-pair and being able to avoid those missed days is so much better too.

Mom23 May 10, 2010 at 12:51 pm

We were initially attracted to the program because of the continuity of care and the cultural exchange aspect. Both my husband and I had done exchange programs and felt that we had benefited from them. We found that the cultural exchange didn’t really happen or was rather superficial. Sometimes the au pair would make a dish from her country, some would teach the children a few words. One au pair did show us that one of our children had a talent for languages. He is now in a language immersion program and doing great.

The continuity of care is great unless you have to rematch, which we have unfortunately had to do four times out of eight au pairs (two for driving, one due to a boyfriend back home and one due to drama).

HRHM May 10, 2010 at 1:16 pm

I started getting APs because of the flexibility. Being a surgeon, our AP is never going to be a total childcare solution, but I also didn’t want my kids in daycare/aftercare for 12 hours a week (which they were prior to getting APs). I also hate the idea of rousting them out of bed at 5am so that I can get them & me ready and be at work prior to 7 am. So with an AP, I can get up at the crack of dawn and leave for work, knowing that at 7am, she will be there to wake them, get them fed and dressed and take them to school/preschool, then pick them up after a humane 6.5 hours and bring them back to the comfort of their own home. I also like that if I’m going to be late that she will get them dinner on time and be there to help take DD5 to gymnastics so that DH can get DD2 to bed on time. She understands that she needs to “be available” until 7 every evening during the week, although we often don’t use her help after 5:30. (by the way, we don’t expand her other hours if we don’t use her, so she rarely comes close to 45 h/w even with every other weekend “date-night” baby sitting.)

As to the “cost-effective”ness of APs, I guess I tend to disagree with the majority. Maybe if I didn’t have to pay for DD2’s preschool & a third car, it would be that. But the reality is I could pay a nanny $10+ per hour and it would likely be cheaper for the amount that I use the AP. The difference is that I will never find a nanny who would be willing to work from 7-9, then 2:30-6:30.

I also will openly state (flame-retardant suit on) that I don’t trust Americans to watch my kids in a closed home setting. I think that there are probably great nanny’s out there, but have seen and heard many horror stories. I think the APs tend to be more reliable because they are part of your family and usually don’t have anyplace to go if they decide to flake out, unlike an American who can just not show up one day, they live with you. I think there are very few professional (ie trained/educated) nanny’s out there and most that do this work it is either as a stop-gap to do something else or it’s because they are uneducated and have no other options/talents. While the AP may fit this category too, I think that they bring more energy to it because they know it’s only for a year or two.

HRHM May 10, 2010 at 1:24 pm

I meant 12 hours a day each week

FormerSwissAupair May 10, 2010 at 4:01 pm

Wow. I am a professional nanny and do not do this purely because I have no other options. Maybe you just didn’t offer a competitive enough wage or something to attract a quality nanny. But like you said, no nanny would work those hours unless you were paying them for the time in between. Glad the AP route works better for you.

Previous au pair May 11, 2010 at 5:30 am

ouch HRHM I have to admire you for your guts of saying something like this like this.. Although it is discriminating and pretty generalizing what ever works for you :)

JessicaLasVegas May 10, 2010 at 2:35 pm

We had a nanny for 6 months after I returned to work from maternity leave, and my husband took over on a flexi-paternity leave. We adored our nanny. She was extremely reliable and extraordinarily caring with my son. My husband worked in the morning, and then take over caring for my son in the afternoon. It was a great set up. Then my husband needed to return to work full time, our nanny went to dental school (she is now in the top of her class), and we realized that getting a long-term nanny at a rate we could afford (plus social security and taxes) would not be very likely.

I am staunch in my belief that, if possible, a child under two should not be in day care. (I realize that many people must put their children in day care, and I am very grateful that I do not have to.) So, the continuity of care, the lessened exposure to disease, and the one-on-one nature of the care-giving in the AP program appealed to me. Also, my husband and I enjoy the cultural exchange aspect of the program. We were both involved in cultural exchanges as young people. So far it has worked out (relatively) well. We had to send back our first AP soon after arrival (smoking continuously). The interim AP we had for three months was great, and she would have stayed had her visa not run out. Our third AP worked out over time (with a very rocky start). And, we feel we have learned a how to screen and deal with AP’s better over the course of the last 6-months.

One question I have for everyone regards the “inexpensive” aspect of the AP program. When I read the Facebook and blog postings of some AP’s who feel they are being taken advantage of because they do not make as much money as live-out nannies. Do these kinds of comments make anyone else feel guilty?

West Coast Mom May 10, 2010 at 2:50 pm

Guilty? No.

Most APs dont realize the hidden costs .. for us, those include car insurance for a young driver in an expensive market; maintenance and cost of a third car (required, in our suburban environment which is not well served by public transportation); an extra cell phone and plan; food; educations stipend; air travel from orientation; and the agency fee – which is massive!

I think it would be well near impossible for a young girl, not yet finished with college, to buy a car, rent an apartment, pay utilities and insurance costs, plus food and other incidentals, on a “regular” nanny salary in our area, so they are getting a pretty good deal.

Darthastewart May 10, 2010 at 4:10 pm

I don’t feel guilty either. I’m happy to explain to an au-pair just how much the extra car, the extra gas, food, preschool, cell phone, utilities, and agency fee cost. Maybe host families should be doing a better job to explain those costs.

Au Pair in CO May 11, 2010 at 12:45 pm

I have never complained about my salary as an au pair. I made $750 a week back in Norway, but with paying for rent, food, insurance, car, cell phone, cable-tv, internet etc, I never had $200 to spend just on shopping and going out as I do now.

Darthastewart May 11, 2010 at 4:34 pm

I think that most people who have had to pay their bills realize how much the other stuff costs. :)

sunnyvah May 10, 2010 at 5:19 pm

I just can say: Don´t feel guilty! It´s always nice to have more money, BUT: as already mentioned, there are hidden costs. And the AP-programm is not made to earn the big money!
I never had that much money to spend for my own fun before or since my AP year. I mean, 160$ (old times ;) )for shopping and travelling and food and movies— a week. I may spend that (well, a little more) A MONTH now…. and with all the money I made in a month as an au pair (maybe 6 weeks salary- old salary of course), thats what I get in a month to live right now— with everything included: food, living, books, tuiton fees (germany is cheaper than the States concerning tuiution fees) etc…
No complaining about the money from my side! APs are not Nannys. They are there with a cultural exchange programm. The pocket money is less than a nanny´s salary- but if you want that money: be a nanny!

StephinBoston May 10, 2010 at 7:30 pm

I totally agree with your point of view, if I had $200 a week to “play” with I’d be very happy! It’s easy for someone not to realize how expensive everything is: food, car, car insurance, space, utilities, etc. it all adds up. I have no desire to rub it in my APs faces but if one of them told me that the don’t make enough money, I’d be happy to itemize the costs for them. Especially now that the stipend is higher, I really thing they are doing fine.

FormerSwissAupair May 10, 2010 at 5:27 pm

AP’s also have to realize, and you should tell them, exactly how many hours a nanny works and what is required of them. Speaking for myself, I have my charges around 65 hours a week, and am teaching them at home them using a preschool curriculum, the main supporter of potty training, etc. As we all know, there is a huge difference between an AP who plays with the children (and is great with them, etc) and a nanny who has a very hands-on role regarding child development, education, etc. Many of the AP’s who come here (and I didn’t realize it as an AP) do not know how hard or long their nanny counterparts work and why we deserve more money. We also do not have the luxury of having pretty much everything in our daily lives paid for! lol

JessicaLasVegas May 10, 2010 at 7:47 pm

Thanks for all the replies – sorry for the poor grammar of my post (pregnancy brain).

Karin Six May 11, 2010 at 10:28 am

Here it is straight: Most au pairs are here for the language immersion and sight-seeing opportunities. It is a learning experience for them otherwise they would not take a year off of college to watch children. (To qualify, they must have at least 200 hours of childcare experience.) One does not have to feel guilty about this opportunity as you are providing this experience for the au pair. It is a ‘trade off’ situation and not a career situation for au pairs. As one of my favorite au pairs put it, “I want to lose my poor English”. She was grateful just to be here. (I miss her dearly!) On a personal note, I love the cultural-exchange and find other cultures highly interesting. (As an LCC, I admire my host families because they are the ones making this program work.)

Calif Mom May 11, 2010 at 10:54 am

I think we know this! The good APs are ones who *also* love kids and have a sense of adventure about life. At least, those are the ones who fit into our family constellation well. And that’s why we offer to bring them sightseeing as often as possible, though that’s getting harder and harder to do as the kids get older, but we are not going to pay for a second hotel room, so as long as they are willing to be cozy with the kids while we travel, it works.

Jessica, no guilt. But as a host you do have to learn how to screen out the Princesses (great advice on aupairmom about that). They are the ones posting elsewhere about being taken advantage of. Our favorite APs have felt grateful for the life we have provided them for a little while.

JessicaLasVegas May 11, 2010 at 5:33 pm

Thanks Calif Mom. I recently read the “How to Avoid Princesses” post on Au Pair Mom, and found it very, very helpful. You must have picked up that I currently have a princess – but, thankfully not nearly as bad a princess as the examples given in that post. Thanks for all the support.

West Coast Mom May 10, 2010 at 2:44 pm

For us, we started because of flexibility. We’re trying again, for flexibility and a cultural exchange.

We had a wonderful live out nanny for 4 years, who decided to go back to school last year. Although we did not hire her out of an AP program, she had originally come to the country as an AP, about 2 years before joining our family. So we knew that the program could find gems. Also, like others have said, we need someone who can work a bit in the morning, and then again after school … very hard to find a nanny willing to do that. And because our schedules change a bit from week to week, we like that we can change the 45 hours to suit our needs on a weekly basis. Also echoing others, I have always preferred to have my kids spend their after school care hours at home, rather than in a center.

We’re signing up for our second year – in fact, just matched – even though our first fell short in many ways, because I think (hope?) that the program can really offer something unique and rewarding when you find a good match. Fingers crossed for a good second year!

OB Mom May 10, 2010 at 3:56 pm

Originally we had a nanny and I told her “I want you to help me take care of my child so that when I get home I can have the most positive and productive interactions with him as possible.” I didn’t want to have to worry about packing bags, shlepping him across town to daycare, last minute planning for illnesses, laundry, and stressing out trying to get there before the $1-5/minute charges hit at the end of the day. I knew I was giving up a lot by leaving my child with a caregiver, but I knew that our fabulous nanny was the best option for us.

Move forward 5 years and then there were 2 kids, both in school and now what to do? As above, who would work from 7-9 and then 3-7 pm? I still wanted the most productive interaction(s) with my kids and by having an in home nanny we had “given up” most of the privacy one worries about with a live in. Luckily the Nanny had simultaneously decided to have children of her own, so it was a good time to transition. So flexibility, dependability, and cost effectiveness were the 3 main reasons.

Cultural exchange is indeed important for us with selecting AP’s which is why, so far, we keep choosing girls from different coutnries. The youthfulness is always still important to keep up with 2 young boys — they better like soccer and Mario!

I do still tell the AP’s the very same thing when they first come “We chose an in home child care environment so that we can spend our limited time with them as high quality time. .” (so far, this helps them understand that I do want them to do some less than fun things during the days like laundry, picking up toys, grocery shopping, etc.). We also do tell them that “we want them to be partners in raising our children and for them to know that when they leave they will know that they have had a (hopefully) postive impact on the growth of 2 children. It’s a very satisfying thing to do knowing that you will leave your own legacy with the kids.” This legacy obviously involves the cultural exchange, but also teaching them about different types of interpersonal interactions and personality types.

Hula Gal May 10, 2010 at 4:12 pm

These are the reasons my husband and I chose the au pair program: no childcare option is perfect, this one has more flexibility than the others, not having to drive my child to and from daycare which requires waking her up way early and having her there for 10 hours a day and having her naps and eating times controlled by the collective needs of all the kids plus the chronic illness of daycare centers, more likely that the au pair is emotionally invested more so than a nanny or daycare provider because she lives with us, au pair can’t fake an illness to get out of working and if she tries you can call her bluff, more knowedge of the kind of person you have caring for your children because she shares your home with you, being able to monitor her personal behavior that could impact her job performance (such as coming home at 2:00am on work nights), is less expensive than a nanny for the equivalent hours. But the funny thing I’ve realized along the way is that the aspect of having an au pair that I was most uncomfortable with initially, her living with us and sharing our space, has become something I enjoy. My husband and I like having another “adult” around. Of course our au pair has an active social life so she isn’t around THAT much but when she is, it is nice to have her there.

Calif Mom May 11, 2010 at 10:20 am

Hula Gal–this is so great to hear from you, because I remember your worries about sharing your home with a young woman. That was my hub’s big hurdle, too, but I totally agree with you; I’ve really come to enjoy having another adult around.

Hula Gal May 12, 2010 at 5:47 pm

Isn’t it interesting to see how those of us who have been contributing to this blog for awhile have progressed in our roles as host moms! This blog has really helped!

PA AP mom May 10, 2010 at 4:26 pm

For us there were a few reasons for getting an AP.

1. I had a 1.5 hour commute each way to work and Dh works out of town Monday-Thursday. No daycare was open the hours we needed, so the flexibility was invaluable.

2. I had to leave for work at 545 am and the au pair allowed the kids to sleep in until 730 and then getting them out of bed and ready for school/preschool.

3. Preventing the illness cycle from daycare centers. Not completely eliminated but decreased significantly.

4. Someone who actually cares about our kids and their well being instead of just watching them as their job. The first AP wasn’t what we hoped for in this area, but the one we have now certainly is.

I am really going to miss the AP program next year (starting in August) when our AP leaves and we have chosen not to renew for another year. Our current AP works at most, 27.5 hours per week because both our boys are in school full-time. I worked out a new contract with my employer which will allow me to put them on the bus and then only have to put them in after-school care for about 45 minutes per day. We just can’t justify the expenses of a third car, extra cell phone, insurance, add. food, education, gas, etc for an average of 20 hours per week of care. Wish I could though.

Host Mommy Dearest May 10, 2010 at 5:23 pm

I have a similar story to the sick baby in daycare / nannies who quit suddenly, frequently with no notice issue – because they found a position with a shorter commute, or in the field they “really” wanted as their career instead of nannying. I remember when HD1 was 3 months old (she was my first) and I left her at daycare for the first time, they had no interest in hearing about how she liked her bottle heated or other things I thought were important, they just wanted to make sure everything was labeled with her name and for me to be on my way. I remember I cried most of the way to work that morning because I felt like my baby was just a number to the daycare and they didn’t care about her. She was there from 3mos old to 9 mos old, and in those 6 months she had 6 ear infections. Basically as soon as antibiotics were done, a new cold came on that turned into an ear infection. Dr said one more ear infection and she would need tubes in her ears. We pulled her from daycare and got a nanny, but after going through a bunch of them in a month or two, and one quitting the day before she started b/c she found something better, we put our daughter back in daycare for a few days while we searched for yet another nanny. It was July so we thought her risk of another cold/ear infection was low, but we were wrong – she got her 7th ear infection and required tubes. The daycare could not understand why I had an issue since 90% of the kids there had tubes and they were a great thing. Ugh.

By the time HD1 was 11 months our 1st AP arrived, and I think all-in the cost was around the same as one kid in daycare, and daycare covered a few more hours than 45, although the hours were not flexible. At daycare, they get your kid sick, then don’t allow them to return until 24 hrs after a fever is gone. With an AP, your kid is sick less often, and you have coverage regardless of whether your kid is sick. With daycare we packed the bottles, the food, the crib sheet, the diapers, the lunch, the extra set of clothes – and when you get home you unpack it, wash it, repack it, go to bed, get up and repeat. With an AP you get home from work and spend some time with your kid, do fewer critical time-pressing chores, go to bed and in the morning just worry about getting yourself out the door to work. Now that I also have HS in the mix, the AP is cheaper than 2 in daycare full time, but since I also pay for both to attend preschool for a few hours a few times per week, the overall cost is higher, but the quality of the care is much higher too. We are beginning our 6th year of au pairs this summer when our 7th au pair arrives – we had one transition and several bumps along the way. I am really looking forward to additional flexibility in the fall when HD begins kindergarten and HS does a little more preschool. Currently we need all of our AP hours to make it through the work week. We get a date night if there is a work holiday or we take a vacation day and use a few hours as flex to get a date night. One less kid in preschool will mean a bit lower costs in the fall too.
To summarize:
1. Avoid daycare (long hours of institutionalized care in a germ-infested place:)
2. Stability (nannys quit alot for valid and invalid reasons and there is no recourse…….)
3. Flexibility – not a reason at first, but now it is more integral
4. Cost – no difference with one, but now with 2 it is cost effective… The cost may no longer be justified once they are both in school since after school care will cost less – but those are long school days then.

Taking a computer lunch May 10, 2010 at 9:19 pm

I like this post, because it deflects away from the expenses of having an au pair and focuses instead on the savings: time, energy, family interaction. For us, having an AP means not only more time at work (and thus more time on vacation or stay-cation as a family), but also better quality of life with the kids. If the AP has an early evening class, then I have to feed The Camel and get dinner on, while ensuring that my son does his homework, doesn’t take inappropriate food from the pantry just before dinner, and life is just more stressful. With an au pair, The Camel gets quality time from the AP, my son gets quality time from me, and dinner gets on the table at a reasonable hour. None of my APs have ever quibbled about salary, although 3 of the 5 have been Extraordinnaires, and therefore making a higher salary (and quite frankly, come with better child development skills that make them equal to a trained nanny).

Calif Mom May 11, 2010 at 10:09 am

HM Dearest–you really have to crunch the numbers to figure out whether hosting an AP costs more than after/before care plus summer camps, with a generous dose of teenagers thrown in to handle those weekdays with after-school activities. The on-site after care at school may get homework done, but it doesn’t get your kid to choir practice or piano lessons. I did a spreadsheet (scaring my DH!) and found that in our metro it’s a wash. That is, hosting an AP is about the same cost for an entire year (watching two kids) when you add up the cost of summer camps times two plus before care for one (whose school starts later than the other one) and after-care for two. I haven’t heard of a summer camp dropping its prices, even though they are advertising heavily for enrollees, even now that it’s May.

TX Mom May 11, 2010 at 12:22 pm

CalifMom,
It would be interesting to compare spreadsheets. When we started hosting an AP, we could not find quality childcare at any cost locally. The quality has greatly improved and the costs are less than the Coasts. I just scrubbed the spreadsheet again and an AP is about $5k/yr more than the alternatives – for us. However, that $5k buys a lot of sanity! In this economy, I think it may make the difference between getting a salary increase at the end of the year or even keeping your job, too.
And, with my flame retardant suit on, CNN had a report online yesterday that women are still paid a fraction of what men earn for the same job. I’m sure if you dig deeper, childcare responsibilties make a significant difference, as most women are still the primary care givers. So that $5k could be considered an investment in your career, too.

JJ host mom May 12, 2010 at 4:54 am

This is a great comment and sums up a lot of the reasons we have an au pair too. One point I want to call out – my career has benefitted enormously from not having to stay home with the kids on a regular basis because they’re sick, like I would with daycare. You just can’t put a price tag on that.

Anna May 10, 2010 at 5:45 pm

Yes, I forgot to mention, I also had a nanny “quit” a few days before she was supposed to start!
She had a respectable-sounding excuse, but I bet she just found a better nannying job!

Jeana May 11, 2010 at 6:44 am

My children were born in China and spent 12 months and 32 months in orphanages. For our first aupair, I needed help because my daughter was in a half-day K program. She had many sensory issues and a more traditional daycare situation wouldn’t have met her needs. In addition, she received speech and occupational therapy several times a week, and I needed help transporting her to those appointments. When my younger daughter came home, at 32 months, she had a very difficult transition. She’d been exposed to Cantonese for the first 24 months of her life. Then she’d been moved to a foster care situation at 24 months, lost Cantonese, and heard Mandarin. When I arrived at 32 months, she lost Mandarin, and was now dealing with English. Subtractive bilingualism is a nasty thing, and my poor girl was in bad shape for a very long time. She was agitated by other children, and physically aggressive. She was in two special programs in our school district. She was picked up in the am, dropped back home for lunch, then transported to her second program. I needed a lot of flexibility. In addition, she’s had seven surgeries in the four years she’s been home. That required me to be away from home and in the hospital with her. I needed help with my older daughter. Also, my younger daughter received in-home therapy. It was helpful to have our aupair there to help me manage those appointments. The past four years have been very difficult, I adopted as a single parent, and having another adult in our home has helped me stay sane. Our last two aupairs were from China. I’m thankful we have friends from China, for when we return in the future. My younger daughter is doing better, is now able to be in a more traditional childcare situation, and no surgeries are in her future for awhile…We miss our aupairs, consider them part of the family, keep in contact, and are so glad that they chose to match with our family!

anonmom May 11, 2010 at 9:24 am

1st Reason: COST! After paying nearly $20k a year in day care for 2 children, pregnant with our 3rd, we looked at the cost of leagally hiring a nanny. Due to our employment, there is no way we could ever hire someone ‘off the books.’ So, we looked into both nannies and au pairs.

2nd reason: RELIABILITY! Yes, the au pair is a ‘captive’ audience in our home, there is no way she can say “the car broke down, I can’t come to work,” or “my pet/aunt/friend…fill in the blank, died, and i can’t come,” etc, you get the idea!

3rd reason: YOUTH and ENTHUSIASM of an au pair coming to the US to be part of our family. Having lived as an exchange student, I understood how it is to be part of another culture and family, although I didn’t work abroad. But, in my view, the au pair would be a bit more energetic to be here for a short period of time, rather than be worn down after so many years in the same job (kind of like I feel!)

4th reason: NOT an AMERICAN STUDENT: I am generalizing here! However, in my experience Americans are less matuer than their counterparts from a lot of other countries. They are more spoiled, and have less life experience. One of my part time jobs, is teaching at a college, and I can’t tell you how many students fail to show up for work. This also goes along the lines of a captive audience- I know the au pair will not have a social life as extensive as an American college student- no finals to study for, or papers to write (or at least use those as excuses for failing to show up to work). In my experience, most other countries allot more responsibility to their teens than we Americans do.

5th reason: OK this is a stretch- but an added benefit- we have a huge extended family now! As my children get older, they will have at least 4 other countries they can visit and stay with their former au pairs! All our au pairs have returned frequently to visit, and it is nice to see them, as they are just like one of our children who has been off to school and returns home for holidays.

Az. May 11, 2010 at 10:39 am

I would consider getting an au pair in future, if I have children. My main reason would be the multicultural aspect – I travel frequently, and some of my best friends live in other countries. I’d be keen to expose my own children to as many other cultures as possible from a young age, as I know how much of a positive effect this has had on me.

Additionally, I’m planning to bring up any children I have to be bilingual (or multilingual) in English and French, plus whatever other languages I pick up in future – most likely Russian, which I’m studying at university, and Spanish, as I’m trying to arrange spending a year or two in Latin America after my degree. The family I was au pairing for spoke three languages and I could see first-hand how well their methods worked, so I’d be keen to employ an au pair who spoke one of those languages to increase my children’s exposure to it.

Calif Mom May 11, 2010 at 10:43 am

I echo anonmom on points 1 and 3.

Yes, APs, sorry about this but cost is what led us to APing in the first place. But cost is not what keeps us coming back.

I interviewed more than a dozen candidates for a traditional, legal nanny back in 2006. Back then it was 15 to 20 bucks an hour *take home* in our metro area–plus health insurance, plus taxes. But as much as that was, I couldn’t find someone I really felt good about. They were “professional” nannies, mostly, looking at all the angles they could find, and they held us over a barrel. I saw many of them at the playgrounds not at all engaged with the kids.

When I was a teenager, my family hosted a series of exchange students, so I knew what fun sharing your home with someone from overseas can be. I also knew some of the downsides, so I felt well equipped to deal with the language and cultural issues of hosting an AP.

We continue to host APs even now that both kids are in school for the cost savings, yes, but also because we love the stability, the energy of APs, and the flexibility–I don’t get a lot of vacation time because I changed employers and had to start over climbing the vacation scale two years ago, earning only two weeks. Try stretching that to cover all those extra days the schools take off, and days the kids are sick, etc! One day last year I walked thru the elementary school around 5:30 or so and saw the room they use for the after-care program and it broke my heart. The kids were exhausted-looking and had to feel just sort of warehoused, waiting for a parent to spring them from jail.

I think each family has to evaluate their needs and their budget annually. The kids really do have different needs from year to year. Our family is looking at improving our housing situation, which will have benefits to the whole family and that will mean shifting our budget around.

Like hula mom said, no perfect childcare solution. Evolving needs of the whole family system have to be weighed and revisted periodically. But the benefits of APs (as opposed to features) for ME are the flexibility of schedule, the caregiver’s relationship with our kids (not a roomful of them), the energy level and fresh perspective of APs, and the stories they tell about how kids live in their countries. Personally, I get a lot out of the opportunity to mentor a young woman as she figures out Life and her life.

Au Pair in CO May 11, 2010 at 12:56 pm

I gotta say, by reading all these comments I am shocked by how much diseases seem to be an issue in American day care centers. The day care I worked at in Norway had 45 kids from 10 months till 6 years old, and to try to put a number to it, maybe 1 out of 45 was sick 1 day a week, so it was definitely not an issue there. I wonder what makes the difference..:)

Az. May 11, 2010 at 1:25 pm

I have to agree. I’ve never heard any similar complaints in the UK (maybe it’s just where I live though?)

Darthastewart May 11, 2010 at 4:28 pm

It’s a HUGE problem here. I have a colleague whose wife quit working because their child contracted so many illnesses the first months in daycare. I think she missed over a month of work in the first 3 months she was back to work.

When I briefly worked in a daycare, I got sick within the first week and had to spend the next week out. I ended up deciding to quit because I was SO sick, and the owner of the daycare wanted me to come in whether I was sick or not.

Mom23 May 11, 2010 at 4:58 pm

Daycare is not a problem for every kid. My oldest child was in daycare for 4 years and only missed 4 days due to illness. He loved it there.

Child #2 is a much quieter child and hated the stimulation of a large daycare center. Even now, he doesn’t really like the idea of going to school. For him a nanny/au pair was a better option.

Anna May 11, 2010 at 4:44 pm

Its such a problem because most families who have kids in daycare are both employed full-time. In America, many companies don’t have sick days at all, those who do have a limited number, and vacation days are very few compared to Europe. So every time a kid is sick and a parent has to take a sick or a vacation day, it is a real hardship. So parents send sick kids to school. Of course there are policies, but when a child is just starting an illness, he might be contageous and not have a fever yet, and while a parent who can afford to stay home on a sick day will err on the side of caution and keep the child home, a parent who works in America will be pressed to send the kid out to childcare.
And I am talking about a conscientious parent, not about a desperate one who will stuff a sick kid with fever-reducing drugs and KNOWINGLY send a sick child to school/daycare….. Unfortunately many are forced to because of dismal and shameful leave policies in American companies.

some Au Pair May 11, 2010 at 8:41 pm

Thanks for that comment!!

To be honest, when I started to search for a family, I tried to avoid families who needed an Au Pair for there three kids because of germs in daycares.
At this time the whole “bad germs” talking sounded totally crazy and strange to me.

Anonymous Since I'm bashing my boss here May 11, 2010 at 9:25 pm

She does the “dose them up with fever-reducing medicine and tell them to only go to the school nurse if they think they’re going to throw up” thing. Because she has them in before/after care. She tells herself that it’s fine, but really, she is jealous that my au pair (who has an amazing immune system!) stays home with mine if they are too feverish to go to school.

And she has a LOT of leave time available. There is stigma here for working moms to not miss “too much” work because of kids.

FormerSwissAupair May 11, 2010 at 11:10 pm

I hated taking care of sick kids when I was an AP. I felt so bad that I was there instead of her mom, who she wanted. I think I resented it purely because the mother didn’t work. She couldn’t stay home with her daughter when she was ill because she had a lunch date, or hair appointment, or nail appointment. But with a working mother, I realize that it is different. I know most mom’s would love to be their for their sick little ones, but in most cases, cannot be.

anom AP May 11, 2010 at 6:14 pm

Im just wondering people are saying there children get sick from going to daycare but it builds up their immune system doesnt it?

StephinBoston May 11, 2010 at 7:08 pm

It does build up your immune system, but the torture of the sickness for the whole family is hard to take. The problem is, it’s not only your child (which is in itself bad enough) it’s the rest of the family who gets sick too. I have never been as sick as when my son was in daycare 2 days a week 1/2 days. The worst of it is, DS2 kept getting sick every time his brother brought germs home and then he would get it 10 times worse. He simply doesn’t have a great immune system.

Anna May 12, 2010 at 10:20 am

It only builds up the immune system if the child has a chance to get healthy and strong again between illnesses. With illnesses as severe and frequent, it not only destroys their health, and really throws back their development too. When my daughter was a toddler, she had many throwbacks in her sleep training, in her potty training, in her mood and maturity with each illness. And when the next illness comes right after the previous one, before the child’s routine is back to normal and his/her achievements are back on target, it can delay their development. They don’t flourish, they just survive.

Taking a computer lunch May 12, 2010 at 2:54 pm

The Camel has Addison’s Disease, which is adrenal insufficiency. She not only didn’t thrive when she was 2, she barely survived. The kicker was when a routine cold sent her into a full Addison’s crisis. She lost 3 pounds in 5 days (which doesnt’ sound like a lot except she only weighed 19 pounds at the time because she had spent the better part of the year not gaining weight) and ended up in hospital for 2 weeks. And this was with an au pair! Imagine what a nightmare day care would have been!

Our pediatrician repeatedly said that year, kids need to be exposed to 50 viruses before they build up a body of immunity. (Of course if their bodies can’t ever withstand the illness, there’s no body of immunity to build up!)

anom AP May 11, 2010 at 7:15 pm

yeah I can understand your point but it will probably happen in preschool and after that too

Host Mommy Dearest May 11, 2010 at 11:26 pm

It’s not the same frequency and severity in preschool as it was in daycare.

Anna May 12, 2010 at 10:22 am

What HostMommyDearest said.
In preschool, it was no comparison. Much less frequent, much less severe illnesses. I attributed it to the fact that preschool was not full-time, and all parents who sent kids there, didn’t depend on it for childcare (were either stay-home, or had another arrangement for the rest of the day). So when the child was sick, it was easier for them to keep them home from school and help the illnesses not spread.

anom AP May 12, 2010 at 6:27 pm

alright sweet I was wrong I get it :)

Calif Mom May 12, 2010 at 9:08 pm

don’t take it personally, anom–clearly you just hit on one of the toughest issues for working moms! We hate it, too. :-)

JessicaLasVegas May 11, 2010 at 7:22 pm

Infants do not have fully developed immune systems. This makes infants are more susceptible to infections than older children. Infants cannot fight off basic infections like adults can, and they become more ill than older children who have the same infection.

Au Pair in CO May 12, 2010 at 5:11 pm

Thanks to everyone for the replies about diseases in day care. What Anna says about parents sending sick kids to day care because of a lack of sick days does make sense. In Norway, I had 48 payed sick days a year (the normal amount is 24), so of course that makes it easier for parents to stay home with their kids:)

Anna May 12, 2010 at 5:49 pm

Au Pair in CO,

even 24 days is extremely generous. I know that the US Federal Government jobs give 13 paid sick days a year – and government is usually more generous with benefits than private companies.
I personally don’t have any sick days. I just have “comprehensive leave”, which is my vacation, but I also have to take this kind of leave when I am sick.

Anna May 12, 2010 at 5:52 pm

And while we are talking numbers, my “comprehensive leave” days are 18 per year – and this is very generous, most people have less. I have been with my company for a while and now got close to the maximum vacation days possible to earn per year with them.
I take half of that or more every year for religious holidays (nonegotiable), so that leaves me with about 8-10 days for everything else…. vacation and sick…

So when we interview an au pair and she asks if we travel a lot, take vacations and take her with us.. I laugh… and cry…

Kristen O'Donnell May 21, 2010 at 7:13 pm

Honestly it was so we can start going on vacations again and have a babysitter. Our Au Pair knows the routine in our home better than anyone and is a reliable, grateful, and truly caring caregiver who is psyched for an opportunity to travel with us, even if it is sometimes a total pain in the ass.

NoVA Host Mom June 14, 2010 at 3:51 pm

A little late to the party, but…
When my husband and I found out we were expecting with #1, I instantly started polling our coworkers in similar situations (both in Law Enforcement). A fair number at his agency had APs, and knowing that neither of us had family nearby to help out as back-up, or to serve as child care at 5:30am on a Sunday morning, it seemed the flexibility of scheduling for an AP was the only way we could go. In fact, it has been a huge necessity on those rare occasions that we have either had short-term assignments (and brand new work schedules) or call-ins to work for emergencies.

Now that we have 2 under 2 (they are 18mos apart), even if we were to find a day care option that could work with our schedules, there is no way under this sky we could afford it (our area is one of those “stupidly-expensive for mediocre day care” kind of places).

Additionally, my husband and I talked about the idea that not only could our kids have the opportunity to learn, or at least be exposed to, a second language, but we might be able to help a young student who would otherwise not have a cultural exchange opportunity like this. Probably a bit naive at the time we talked about it, but it was one of the things we liked about the program.

When we began, we were a little surprised about all the incidental costs (those overall cost lists on the glossy pages seem to not include the things like another cell phone, the cable box or just how much it really does cost to get the driver insurance, etc). Now we (I hope) have a better handle on things. It was hard to give up the privacy and remember to share the house, so to speak, but we learned (and I am sure are still learning). Still, unless one of us were to get a “normal” job, we are likely going to be with APs for many years to come.

BLJ Host Mom June 14, 2010 at 6:33 pm

When we had our first child, she went to a daycare center. From 4 months until almost a year, she had about 3 weeks when she wasn’t fighting a cold, ear infection, or croup. And by then she was a terrible sleeper from all the up-all-night sickness care. When we had #2, I was terrified by starting over with all the sickness, it was heart breaking. So we found a nanny, who had a daughter of her own, and she watched my younger child and her child together, while my older stayed at the daycare she’d come to love.

Finally turnover at daycare was too high, and the nanny gave her notice and we got another young, fun, nanny. She was awesome, but only available until she finished school and started teaching. We loved the energy she brought to the table, and the stress-free heart and energy of a non mom. :)

When we talked about having a third (in less than 5 years) we talked of selling our house. We couldn’t afford a nanny or a daycare center for three, but we really wanted more children, and refused to accept the idea that the cost of care over the next 5 years had to dictate how many kids we had and how many siblings they had FOREVER. That IS what people do, but it didn’t feel right for us.

So, we decided that if the girls shared a room, and we let our AP have the guest bedroom, we wouldn’t have to sell our house that we love (In this market!). We could let our house pay for part of our child care. So that’s what we did.

Cultural exchange was appealing as well as the age of APs. We realized that with a daycare center, the “teacher” was changing more often than once a year anyway, just that with an AP we get to be in charge of who the next “teacher” is.

So, yes, we made the decision based on cost.

And based on the fact that we wanted 3 children, and were willing to find a way to have quality care for them, rather than decide to only have 2 because of cost.

This seems to be a great set up for everyone, as long as we screen well and are very honest about what we both can expect out of the program.

Momof2boys September 25, 2010 at 12:48 am

We are considering getting an au pair. In fact, we have signed up, interviewed and found someone we think will be a good fit. I am just worried about how it will work. We have a wonderful nanny whom we love and our boys love. The only problem is we pay her an arm and a leg and at the end of the day, I don’t feel like I have enough left over to justify me working and being away from my kids (I would prefer to be a stay-at-home mom). So now we are at the point where we have decided either an au pair or I quit my job and stay home again (day care just isn’t an option for me). So now I have to ask others who have au pairs:
– Do you get sad if your kid crawls in the lap of the AP instead of yours if you are all together? I am sure I would cry!
– I am worried about the lack of privacy, but I have seen a lot of good posts about how to deal with this.
– we have a small house – the au pair would have a bedroom on their own floor, but there is only 1 bathroom. Is this just too cramped to bring another adult into? We have talked about moving, but we live in a very expensive area.
– Is it better to have an AP that has experience as an AP or someone who is new to the program?
My children are 1 and 3 – is it better to have older or younger kids with an AP?

Thank you for any advice anyone can give. I appreciate it!

MommyMia September 26, 2010 at 1:42 pm

Momof2Boys – Congratulations on taking the first steps and finding an AP whom you think will be great for your family! In answer to your questions,
-Of course I get sad if my kids cuddle up with our AP, but it also makes me happy to know that they have bonded with her and love her. They know that I’m their mommy (although I’ve been called by AP’s name so many times, but conversely, she gets called Mommy, too!) This means you’ve selected a great au pair!
-Yes, the lack of privacy can get annoying sometimes, but gradually you learn to let the little things go and focus more on the “big picture.”
-As long as the AP knows in advance that there is just one bathroom and who all she’ll be sharing with, it shouldn’t be a problem. You many find that if she comes from a large family, she’s already used to this situation. While many families are able to provide their AP with totally private quarters, not everyone can, and the right AP won’t focus on the material things and compare your home to others’ in her cluster. You’ll know after a few weeks if sharing is working for all of you (or if there are traffic jams in the mornings with everyone needed to be ready for work & school at the same time…). If you need to move, you’ll have adequate time to plan and it may be useful to have the AP’s assistance during the move.
-I always prefer APs with experience, but they’re not so easy to find. I think it depends on the AP and the children; some teenagers do really well with au pairs, some hate it. I think most younger children can adapt and cope with whatever, given love and support from all their caregivers. With your children’s ages, I think they’ll be fine with someone new to the program. Hopefully, she’s had some childcare experience with toddlers and will be open to learning your family’s particular rules and practices. Good luck!

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